In order to understand the meaning and significance of President Obama's decision to come out in favor of gay marriage, we have to understand the meaning of marriage for ourselves. How can we possibly evaluate his decision unless we have assessed the whole concept and institution of marriage?
If our idea of marriage is based on the Bible, then we have no opportunity to think for ourselves. Then our perspective is at the mercy of men who lived thousands of years ago, and what they thought God said to them.
But if we put all that aside, and think for ourselves, what does marriage really mean? Is it something reserved for a couple who are able to procreate? Or does it have a broader meaning, more psychological than biological?
Surely marriage is a state of mind before it becomes a legal reality. To marry is to merge; it is when two things become one; it is something that happens, occasionally, between human beings who feel a profound sense of rapport and oneness with one another.
Now when that state of mind takes place, various options are possible. We don't have to do anything. Marriage of the minds demands no further fulfillment.
On the other hand, there are various matters of convenience. We might be happier and more comfortable living together. We might like to appear together in public and let it be known that we are a couple. Or not.
Or we might like to enter into a legal arrangement that recognizes and acknowledges our psychological relationship. From the standpoint of the law, we might like our psychological oneness to be reflected in our bank accounts, in our wills, in hospital visitation rights, or simply as a matter of public recognition of our psychological relationship.
So that is where the legal concept of marriage comes into play. It is a by-product, an aftermath, of something that first occurred on a psychological level. It is the fulfillment in a legal, procedural sense of something that has already occurred -- the deep bonding, the psychological merging, of two human beings.
Now if that is what marriage means intrinsically -- divorced from any written sources of authority, no matter how ancient -- then how are we to interpret the concept of gay marriage, and Obama's endorsement of it?
Surely there can be no doubt that the psychological marriage of two human beings has no special connection with their gender. To be sure, the male-female model represents the majority, and holds a special place in our consciousness.
But who is to dictate among consenting adults that this is the only and exclusive model of marriage? The God of Abraham, who ruled that men could worship him properly only if they had their foreskins removed?
Therefore, President Obama's decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is not only right and true in its essence, but must have enduring consequences. In this matter, he has come out on the side of Thomas Paine and Martin Luther King: an historic spokesman on behalf of principle, regardless of political consequence.
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